Indonesia days 1-3: beginnings in jungle village Bukit Lawang, Sumatra

And so begins the second chapter of my gap year travels. My first few days were filled with looong travel days and reaching a jungle village on Sumatra Island. I decided to spend my entire month in Sumatra because of its reputation for being an adventure-lover’s paradise and being more off-the-beaten-path. So far, I’ve been focusing on recovery and adjusting to Southeast Asia life again. πŸ™‚

Day 1: Travel day to Sumatra

My first day, I landed in Jakarta, and then immediately took a domestic flight to reach Medan, the capital city of Sumatra. As travel goes, there are always logistical bumps, and I happened to encounter one on day one.

I booked a flight from Jakarta to Medan which ended up being a scam…the flight didn’t exist and airline wasn’t even at the airport! I ended up bouncing around different airlines trying to onto a flight, and one sympathized with my situation and let me on for free. Gotta love how lax (and disorganized) Southeast Asia is, and how you can kind of do anything you want. A very memorable welcome back. πŸ™‚

After 2 days of flying, I was completely pooped! I crashed at the airport hotel in Medan and got a few hours of sleep.

Day 2: arriving in Bukit Lawang

My travel was not yet over, as the next morning I had a 3-hour cab ride to my first stop, Bukit Lawang. It felt good to get out of the airport and see the roadside scenery. Door to door, the entire journey from SF took 50 hours, but that’s what I get for picking the jungle as my first stop. πŸ™‚

Bukit Lawang is a small village and the gateway to popular jungle treks and spotting wild orangutans. The entire village was centered around its river – lots of locals swimming, tubing, and enjoying river activities.

locals swimming in Bukit Lawang river

I settled into Brown Bamboo, a small 5-bedroom guesthouse in the village. My room was extremely basic – simply a mattress and mosquito net. No fan, air con, wifi, shower, hot water, or flushable toilet. Boy did this throw me into backpacking life again!

basic accommodation in Bukit Lawang

The bathroom was simply a faucet and bucket. This wasn’t my first time doing a bucket shower, but I was a little intimidated especially since I was still adjusting. I tried to stay positive and ventured out to explore the village.

The village itself was low-key and quite underdeveloped – most of the village lived similarly to my accommodation – but the rustic charm quickly grew on me. I soaked in the small-town vibes I so love and adjusted to standing out as a westerner once again.

Village of Bukit Lawang

Lots of people were in town as it’s a long holiday weekend for Indonesians. There were plenty of picnic areas right along the river, and it was quite the party! Lots of families set up picnic blankets, ate food, and blasted music.

Local Indonesians picnicking along riverside

Karaoke was everywhere too – every 10 meters there was a group singing away on their microphone. I couldn’t help but think Indonesians know how to have a good time. πŸ™‚ There was so much joy in the air as kids played in the river while the adults sang their hearts out.

Indonesians singing karaoke

There were several wooden bridges that allowed for crossing back and forth the river. I appreciated the convenience as I bopped around both sides all day. But I have to say…I questioned the bridges’ sturdiness, ha.

Sketchy bridge crossing

After exploring, I headed back to the guesthouse for some rest. I still had major jet lag. There were the cutest two cats that I played with – my first friends in Indonesia. πŸ˜‰

Mother cat and kitten

After chilling, I stretched my legs and took a walk around the village at golden hour.

Bukit Lawang river

Then, I grabbed dinner in town. I came across one of those restaurants where a family cooks a bunch of dishes, and when they run out of food, they close. These are my favorite places to eat in Southeast Asia because it’s the most local you can get, and it’s super cheap! The woman who ran it was very sweet and explained all the dishes to me. There must have been 20 dishes available – I couldn’t believe she cooked them all herself!

Local Indonesian food

SO DELICIOUS! I had a hearty, local meal for $1 USD. I loved how it was full of flavor and spices but not too heavy. I can definitely get used to eating Indonesian food every day. πŸ˜‰

After all the travel and jet lag, I called it an early night. I slept like a baby, minus a few jolts awake from the karaoke downstairs. πŸ˜›

Day 3: chill day and shopping in the village

The next morning, I woke up early and had breakfast at the same place as yesterday. I swear the food tasted even better. I might actually eat here every day in Bukit Lawang. πŸ˜‰

Then, I took advantage of the cooler morning temps and took a stroll through the village. The sun was out and it gave me a whole new appreciation for this town. It’s also amazing what a full night’s sleep can do to one’s outlook.

Loved the early morning glow of this village, as the quiet town slowly turned into a big party again as people emerged.

Bukit Lawang
Bukit Lawang bridge
Bukit Lawang river

After my morning stroll, I decided to check out of my guesthouse and move to another one. I talked to a guesthouse that offered me the same price as what I paid before ($6), but with some key amenities – shower and toilet…we meet again. πŸ™‚ I also loved how this new spot had more of a vibe and felt like a retreat from the town.

After settling in, I ventured out for a walk through the outskirts of Bukit Lawang. I stayed on the paved trails near the nicer hotels, bringing me through the jungle but not straying far from civilization. I was actually on the hunt for an outdoor market that a local recommended, but I got lost and the mid-day heat was crippling, so I threw in the towel and got lunch instead. πŸ™‚

I went the more bougie route this time and splurged on lunch at a nice hotel – the whole meal cost $4. Joe joked over the phone about how I so quickly adjust to cost of living. πŸ˜‰

In the afternoon, I went shopping in town. I was on the hunt for some light flowy outfits that would be comfortable in the heat.

Shopping in Bukit Lawang

The rest of the day was spent relaxing at my guest house and watching the evening rain. All the adrenaline from the last few days was finally wearing off, and I was able to relax for the first time.

Truthfully, at the moment, I feel like I’m struggling with adjusting to traveling again. I think it’s a combination of travel fatigue and being thrown into a very underdeveloped area right away – while I tend to gravitate towards these villages, I feel like I’m not enjoying it as much as in the past. I admit I already feel homesick, but I’m gonna give it time and have confidence in my decision to come here. I also think jet lag has a lot to do with it.

Tomorrow, I’m going on a 2-day jungle trek! Trading my quasi-comforts for camping in the woods. I’m excited to cross a Sumatra jungle trek off my bucket list and see orangutans in the wild. πŸ™‚

9 thoughts on “Indonesia days 1-3: beginnings in jungle village Bukit Lawang, Sumatra

    1. It was so lovely. I would love to go to bali but sadly won’t have time this trip! I heard great things. Hope we cross paths another time πŸ˜„


  1. Great little post and an incredibly fascinating story Charlotte, thanks for sharing this with us!

    Reminds me of wonderful time I had with my wife in a teeny tiny South Asian hidden gem of a country, Sri Lanka.

    It was an incredible experience from people to places to architecture to all the experiences that we’ve gathered, such a magnificent place to be and it was an one for the memory vaults.

    You can read the full story here,


    1. Thank you for sharing! I went to Sri Lanka in March but didn’t get a chance to see trincomalee. It looks wonderful from your post! πŸ˜„


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